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posted by n1 on Wednesday March 11 2015, @01:05AM   Printer-friendly
from the engineer-by-day,-writer-by-night dept.

Joshua Rothman has a very interesting article in The New Yorker about Liu Cixin, China’s most popular science-fiction writer, author of thirteen books who until very recently had retained his day job as a computer engineer with a State-run power plant in a remote part of Shanxi province. It helped him to stay grounded and enabled him to "gaze at the unblemished sky" as many of his co-workers do.

In China, Cixin is about as famous as William Gibson in the United States and Cixin is often compared to Arthur C. Clarke, whom he cites as an influence. Rothman writes that American science fiction draws heavily on American culture, of course—the war for independence, the Wild West, film noir, sixties psychedelia—and so humanity’s imagined future often looks a lot like America’s past. For an American reader, one of the pleasures of reading Liu is that his stories draw on entirely different resources.

For example, in “The Wages of Humanity,” visitors from space demand the redistribution of Earth’s wealth, and explain that runaway capitalism almost destroyed their civilization. In “Taking Care of Gods,” the hyper-advanced aliens who, billions of years ago, engineered life on Earth descend from their spaceships; they turn out to be little old men with canes and long, white beards. “We hope that you will feel a sense of filial duty towards your creators and take us in,” they say. "I doubt that any Western sci-fi writer has so thoroughly explored the theme of filial piety," writes Rothman. In another story, “The Devourer,” a character asks, “What is civilization? Civilization is devouring, ceaselessly eating, endlessly expanding.” But you can’t expand forever; perhaps it would be better, another character suggests, to establish a “self-sufficient, introspective civilization.” "At the core of Liu’s sensibility," concludes Rothamn, "is a philosophical interest in the problem of limits. How should we react to the inherent limitations of life? Should we push against them or acquiesce?"

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by cubancigar11 on Wednesday March 11 2015, @04:40PM

    by cubancigar11 (330) on Wednesday March 11 2015, @04:40PM (#156139) Homepage Journal

    West has a habit of painting everything as East vs West. In reality both cultures are not as different as you think - all the differences you see today are just because Industrial revolution happened in west and for whatever reason (all of which IMHO are related to racism), West guarded its industries from East.

    I am from a very small village of India where I spent all my childhood until I got into college, which was supposed to be a good college (IIT - Kanpur, dilbert fans might recognize) in a moderately small village in one of the most backward states. Then I was in Germany for four years after which I came back to India because I just couldn't fit in. But I have travelled a lot and I have been to USA too. My elder brother, who was a much better student than I ever was, lived for a decade in USA and then got married to an Austrian is nowadays in UK.

    Filial piety - it doesn't exist in common people whether they are from a village of China or big city like New York. There used to be a time when everyone was living in joint families. Joint families were created not because of 'eastern culture' but because they were the most economical unit for an agrarian society. Everyone, man or woman, had their roles defined. The 'Family' in Godfather is pretty much it - except that Godfather is the story of criminals. In such families (of farmers or criminals), father and mother play the role of CEO and CFO resp. while children play the role of bonded labors. This model worked for thousands of years when you had to live near the land and it was almost impossible to get a new one unless you were exceptionally talented and worked for it all your life. In this model, children fight for resources and even kill each other, and once one of them is in position of power - when father dies (as is the case more often since men live less than women on average) - then mother used to live in ignominy and the younger brother will either get into a fight over land or just accept his destiny and live as beta unless his son beats his brother's son and cycle continued. And the whole society will turn a blind eye under the pretense of 'it is a family matter' or will give advice as if their own family is somehow not having any problem, but in reality that is the oppressed life everyone had because you cannot get rich by farming or being a criminal.

    All this changed after invention of industries because suddenly people could move away. The romantic notion of filial piety is pretty much an invention of the West as it encountered a still agrarian East. The sad part is that the East has rejected all of its own art and culture and depends on Western imagery of itself for identity. That is why people wearing shirt-part, living in nuclear family away from parents and brothers/sisters slogging in industries can still call themselves as being 'eastern'. It is bullshit.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by opinionated_science on Wednesday March 11 2015, @05:39PM

    by opinionated_science (4031) on Wednesday March 11 2015, @05:39PM (#156172)

    If you watch the BBC show Q.I. , you might have learned it was to do with China using china, rather than glass...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12 2015, @08:37PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12 2015, @08:37PM (#156888)

      Moderated +1 Quite Interesting

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12 2015, @12:15AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12 2015, @12:15AM (#156417)

    White guy here who married an indian immigrant from ruralish Gujarat who is entirely Americanized now. I watch a lot of pirated far-east asian films (can't really stand bollywood because of the musicals, but I like a lot of the songs by themselves, way more than I like k-pop, j-pop, etc).

    From this perspective:

    What I see in asian cinema (and even moreso in asian soap operas) is tons of emphasis on Confucian style filial piety. Characters often make unexpected-to-me choices that appear to hinge on that and they talk about it often enough - not really exposition, but kind of like conflicts between social expectations and their own desires/motivations. I know movies aren't real life, more like exaggerations of real life. And I've never actually lived in any of those countries. But given the prevalence of those themes in those culture's own not-for-export cinema, I have to think that the concepts are a lot greater than in non-confucian societies like India and the west.

    • (Score: 2) by cubancigar11 on Saturday March 14 2015, @07:15PM

      by cubancigar11 (330) on Saturday March 14 2015, @07:15PM (#157827) Homepage Journal

      I suppose I can call those movies propaganda. Most eastern countries have a very failed or, might be early, state of democracies. If they start showing the real country the whole sham will be off and their might be revolution.